Dir. Abbas Kiarostami
(2011, Not Rated, 106 min)

Writer-director Abbas Kiarostami seems to be playing a game in Certified Copy, but I don’t know the rules or objective. He opens very blatantly with a discussion of artistic authenticity: Is a reproduction of a masterpiece any less a masterpiece? Furthermore, isn’t the Mona Lisa simply a reproduction of the beauty of its subject, Lisa del Giocondo? Are we not all simply copies of our ancestors’ DNA? And so on. What follows is a story that calls into question reality, but although it’s intellectually intriguing, I found it dramatically and emotionally unsatisfying. How can we invest in characters when they’re just puppets of the director, subject to change on his whim, without any agency of their own. The question of whether they’re “authentic” or not, or whether a film can present anything authentic at all, seems besides the point, because the director’s coy, mercurial approach evades his own theme. If nothing seems real in the film, it’s not because nothing can ever seem real, but because the director goes out of his way to make everything seem false.

It begins with James Miller (William Shimell), a British author giving the aforementioned lecture in Italy on his latest book, Certified Copy; he believes that a reproduction is no less valuable than an original – or no less worthless, depending on his mood. In the audience is Elle (Juliette Binoche), an art gallery owner who disagrees with him vehemently. Sometime after his lecture, they meet in person and discuss their feelings about art. They seem to be strangers at first, but an old coffee shop barista mistakes them for a married couple, and they seem to go along with it, enacting an entire history of acrimony and regret. But once they leave the cafe, they continue the charade, becoming more and more intimate. They don’t seem to be pretending anymore, and it’s not clear if they ever were.

Are they truly an estranged married couple, or are they just playing at being one? My problem with the film is that neither seems to be true. In some scenes they’re a bitter married couple, in others they’re strangers, and then back again, because Kiarostami has decided so. Trying to even suss out the director’s point of view proved futile to me; I found myself in limbo, watching emotional scenes from an emotional distance, trying to think my way through the irresolvable problem of the story: that these aren’t really people at all, or even facsimiles of people, but theoretical constructs. Trying to draw conclusions about them is like trying to analyze human nature with algebra. It’s an interesting question, but I lacked a means of reaching an answer.

 

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